Writer: Tim Firth
Director: Jack Ryder
Reviewer: Vicki Goodwin
The women behind the story of Calendar Girls could scarcely have imagined the far reaching impact that their journey would have on the world beyond them. Their heart-warming tale of courage in the face of loss has become an inspiration that has touched the lives of many. As I took my seat for opening night, the atmosphere within the audience was palpable. Everyone had their own ideas as what to expect from Tim Firth’s stage adaptation, yet Calendar Girls is not as easy to pigeonhole as one might expect.
Opening with the iconic swells of Blake’s Jerusalem, we’re transported to the ‘green &pleasant land’ of Yorkshire, where six women find camaraderie within the walls of their local WI institute. The chemistry between them is felt instantly, as raucous laughter fills the theatre from the offset. The experienced cast has perfect comedic timing, and deliver fantastic one-liners in a natural manner. Lynda Bellingham as Chris, and Jan Harvey as Annie, share the kind of friendship that most women will find relatable. Their quick glances and hidden laughter in the face of humour, and later their shared grief at the loss of Annie’s husband John to Cancer, seem genuine and heartfelt. Friendship and love are what run through the core of this performance, and each actress plays their rôle with passion and aplomb.
While many may wrongly assume that this is simply a performance about middle aged women getting naked for a calendar, there is so much more to be gained from viewing. The themes running throughout are universal, and should go some way to dispel the myth that this is purely a play for Women. John, played sensitively by Joe McGann, shows how rapidly and silently Cancer can take a hold of us. His eventual death is handled respectfully, with perfect lightning (Tim Lutkin) making his exit from the stage all the more haunting. While there are grief fuelled moments that transport the audience within themselves, there’s also plenty of humour that will appeal to a broad range. June Watson as Jessie brings great laughs with her snappily delivered lines and speeches. The greatest applause however, comes when Debbie Chazen’s Ruth drunkenly staggers across the stage, obviously in need of the Dutch courage that many of us would turn to at the prospect of a nude photo shoot. Later, her gained confidence leads her to deliver some devastating blows, which had the audience roaring. Well placed jibes at Cheshire went down splendidly within the Merseyside audience, who shared knowing laughter with one another.
There are moments within this performance that anyone, regardless of age or gender will be able to connect to. Whether it’s Jennifer Ellison’s fantastic portrayal of single Mother Cora, or Rula Lenska as shamelessly bold Celine, there are aspects of these women that we could find within ourselves. It’s a great credit to Tim Firth, that his writing is able to unite the audience so seamlessly. We find ourselves a part of that Yorkshire background, experiencing the same hopes, fears and emotions as those playing on stage. The final scene is beautiful in its honesty, and leaves the audience with the uplifting fact that to date the now infamous calendar shoot has raised upwards of three million pounds. A staggering achievement that leaves us teary eyed and hopeful.
A well-executed performance that I would recommend to anyone. If you manage to get hold of a ticket, you’re in for a splendid treat that will stay with you for a long time. Superb!
Runs until 26th November 2011